The lakeside around Flores has several attractions including a quirky island museum, the peaceful villages of San Andres and San José, the Maya ruins of Motul, Tayasal and Nixtun Chi’ch’, a zoo and a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Boatmen in Flores offer trips around the lake charging around US$30 to visit two or three of the main attractions. You’ll find them waiting for business behind the Hotel Santana, in the southwestern corner of Flores and by the public boat dock to San Miguel.Read More
In the past, the mainstay of both San Andrés’ and San José’s economies was chicle, the sap of the sapodilla tree, used in the manufacture of chewing gum. The arduous and poorly paid job of collecting chicle involves setting up camps in the forest, and working for months at a time in the rainy season when the sap is flowing. Today natural chicle has largely been superseded by artificial substitutes, but there is still a demand for the original product, especially in Japan. Other forest products are also collected, including xate (pronounced “shatey”), palm leaves used in floral arrangements and exported to North America and Europe; and pimienta de jamaica, or allspice. Harvesters (pimenteros) use spurs to climb the trees and collect the spice, they then dry it over a fire.
San José’s sacred skulls
San José’s sacred skulls
San José is famous for its two fiestas. The first, to mark the patron saint’s day, is held between March 10 and 19 and includes parades and fireworks plus an unusual, comical-looking costumed dance during which a girl (la chatona) and a horse skip through the village streets.
The second fiesta is distinctly more pagan, with a unique mass, celebrated in the church on Halloween and a festival that continues on into November 1 – All Saint’s Day. For the evening service, one of three venerated human skulls (thought to be the remains of early founders of the village, though some claim they were Spanish missionaries) is removed from its glass case inside the church and positioned on the altar for the ceremony. Afterwards, the skull is carried through the village by black-clad skull bearers, accompanied by children dressed in traditional Itza traje and hundreds of devotees, many carrying candles and lanterns. The procession weaves through the streets, stopping at around thirty homes, where prayers are said, chants made and the families ask for blessings. In each home, a corn-based drink called ixpasá is consumed and special fiesta food is eaten, part of a ceremony that can take over a day to complete.
The exact origin of the event is unclear, but it incorporates a degree of ancestor reverence (or even worship). After all the houses have been visited, the skull is returned to its case in the church, where it remains, and can be seen with the other two skulls, for the rest of the year.
Boats from Flores head across the lake to San José (and back) on the night of the fiesta.